There is peaking at the right time and then there is what Horn has done during the last month.
The Jaguars of September that played against a schedule of heavyweights has turned into a team that is looking like one of those championship contenders.
Horn saved its best for the right time of the year and its late-season surge continued on Friday as it rolled to a 49-31 victory over Wylie in a Class 6A Division II area round playoff game at Mesquite Memorial Stadium.
The Jaguars (5-7) claim their fifth consecutive win and advance to the regional semifinals for the third time in program history where they will face the winner of Saturday’s Spring Westfield/Cypress Ranch game at 7 p.m. Friday at Sam Houston State’s Elliott T. Bowers Stadium in Huntsville.
Horn averaged less than 100 yards per game passing during the regular season, but has caught fire in the playoffs. Quarterback Jermaine Givens threw for more than 300 yards against Temple and picked up where he left off, completing 20-of-25 passes for 338 yards and a pair of touchdowns.
“We really worked hard knowing that we were going to have to throw the ball to be effective against people in the playoffs,” Horn head coach Mike Overton said. “We worked on it with the receivers running better routes and catching the football and with the quarterbacks, reading coverages and it’s really just been a lot of hard work and now we’re reaping the benefits of it.”
No Jaguar receiver had more than 17 catches during the regular season, but they have stepped up in critical moments the last two weeks. Reagan Nickerson had five receptions for 100 yards and Jaelon Tenison made five grabs for 76 yards. N’Kowsi Emory, the hero a week ago, had a 7-yard touchdown reception with just 10 seconds left in the first half that gave Horn a 28-24 lead at the break and Cameron Jackson delivered a 75-yard scoring catch that put them firmly in control with a 42-24 lead with 11:11 left.
“That’s something in practice we’ve been really been focusing on is those guys,” Overton said. “If they can come up big and make plays then the passing game is going to be big for us and they’ve done that. They’ve done a great job in practicing and in preparation.”
The other big key for Horn was its ability to contain Wylie’s electric quarterback Rashad Dixon. In the first half, Dixon accounted for 246 total yards and three touchdowns as the teams traded big plays.
The second half was a different story, as the Jaguars largely put the clamps on Dixon and the Pirate offense.
Wylie had a chance to regain the lead early in the third quarter, but Kendrick Blackshire had a big sack and then with Dixon under pressure once again, Larry Donnell had a huge interception in the end zone to end the threat. Three plays later, Givens scored on a 25-yard touchdown run to give the Jaguars some breathing room with a 35-24 lead midway through the third.
Dixon rushed for more than 100 yards in the first half, but was held to 41 yards on 13 carries during the final two quarters. He did lead Wylie down the field for one scoring drive in the fourth quarter, capped by a 4-yard run by Dixon, but Horn came right back with a 15-yard touchdown run from Emory to push the lead back to 49-31 with just 4:49 left.
“The big thing defensively is we did a better job of tackling and keeping him boxed in during the second half,” Overton said. “Still, he’s a great player, he’s super elusive, but our defense, we ran to the football better and tackled better in the second half.”
While Horn took control as the game progressed, the first half was a back-and-forth affair.
Givens, who also rushed 17 times for 152 yards, got free around the left edge for a 13-yard touchdown run to stake them to a 7-0 lead on the game’s opening drive.
Wylie came right back, mixing the run and the pass to quickly move 70 yards, capped by a 5-yard scoring run from Dixon to tie it at 7-7.
The teams combined for 38 points in an explosive second quarter.
Esaias Taylor scored from a yard out to give the Jaguars the lead, but the Pirates quickly countered, as Dixon had a short touchdown run and Andrew Cunningham kicked a 34-yard field goal to take a 17-14 advantage with 4:25 left in the half.
That was plenty of time for more fireworks.
Horn converted on fourth-and-9 when Givens hit Tenison for 21 yards and Taylor sprinted through the defense for a 15-yard score on the next play to make it 21-17.
Wylie surged back ahead when the Jaguars secondary bit on a pump fake and Donovan Ollie was all alone for a 46-yard touchdown catch to give them a 24-21 lead with just 1:26 left before halftime.
On the ensuing drive, Givens rushed three times for 26 yards and was 4-for-4 through the air, capped by a highlight-reel play in which he scrambled around the pocket for several seconds to buy time before finally finding Emory in the corner of the end zone for a 7-yard touchdown to give them a 28-24 lead and they would not trail again.
Horn now moves forward into the regional semifinals for the first time since 2014. They understand they will likely be underdogs again, but they are ready for the challenge.
“We played some great football teams this year. I don’t think anybody has played as many good football teams as we have,” Overton said. “So we know what it takes to be competitive and play against the best teams in the state of Texas and that is the big thing about our team right now is we’re confident, and as long as we can remain confident, keep working, keep the focus ahead, we’re going to be a able to compete against anybody.”